Strength in Vancouver’s Digital Future – Pixar Canada closing its studios

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    To the untrained eye, Pixar’s decision this month to close its Vancouver studio could have been an ominous sign for the city’s burgeoning digital and tech sector. That despite lucrative government concessions and tax breaks the digital and arts industry in the tech-laden city was maybe in trouble. However, scratch beneath the surface and Vancouver presents itself as consolidated hub for tech firms that is well located and fully wired for a spot in the world of tomorrow. In fact on the same day the shutdown was announced by Pixar owner Disney, fellow digital upstart HootSuite, which operates social media management software, ran an open house recruitment PR stunt looking to fill up to 100 positions.

    Individual Decision, Not Part of a Trend

    Pixar’s decision to leave Vancouver, Disney said, was more about global consolidation. Disney had just paid $4 billion for Lucas Films, and was looking at re-launching the ever-popular Star Wars franchise. It is also wanting to focus more of its efforts on Marvel, which it bought for a little over $4 billion in 2009. Its Vancouver Pixar studio, which produced short animated films featuring Pixar characters for DVDs and rides, appeared to be no longer part of the bigger picture. BC Jobs Minister Shirley Bond told the Globe and Mail that while the departure was “disappointing” she saw the decision as tied to the company’s overall business strategy and not BC’s business climate, where $26 million in tax breaks encouraged the digital media sector. This was backed up by Centre for Digital Media industry relations director Dennis Chenard, who expected Pixar’s newly unemployed workers to be “scooped up in a heartbeat” by other digital companies.

    An Educated Digital Hub

    There are more than 600 digital media companies in British Columbia, Vancouver’s Canadian province, employing roughly 16,000 people and generating $2.3 billion in sales a year, according to the Vancouver Economic Commission. Predictably more than 60 per cent of these digital companies are based in Vancouver, BC’s biggest and most wired city. This represents a significant part of Vancouver’s economy and should come as no surprise with Vancouver being one of Canada’s most educated cities. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says Canada has more people with university and college degrees per person aged 25-64 than any other of its member countries, including Australia, Switzerland and the United States. Further, Vancouver’s population is more educated than most their Canadian compatriots, with almost a third of those at working age holding a university degree and 57 per cent having a university or college education.

    Centralized and Well-Placed for Success

    A well-educated and creative population is only one of the reason’s contributing to Vancouver’s growing reputation as a tech hotspot. A centralized hub of digital companies – about a third of Vancouver’s digital media businesses are located centrally – means relationships, partnerships and collaborations can be easily formed and maintained. Working in close proximity also provides a relative economics of scale for many smaller start-ups, which can take advantage of greater numbers of smaller firms to get access to better infrastructure. Digital companies rely on the internet more than most companies for everything from holding meetings to organizing professional indemnity to project management and communications, and being within a recognized digital hub means better access to faster internet services such as fibre. The city is also close to the US, and nearby Seattle (home of Microsoft) and California, home to Silicon Valley and the booming tech city of San Francisco, meaning companies can easily link into an even greater tech hub, and form collaborative ventures with US-based firms while taking advantage of Vancouver’s financial incentives and concessions.

    City Paving a Path Forward

    You know somewhere is serious about its digital future when even the city is on board with a digital strategy. The City of Vancouver’s Digital Strategy will identify opportunities to increase, improve and enhance digital access and infrastructure, and the digital economy. The strategy recognizes technology such as tablets and smartphones are changing the way people do business, engage and work with each other and the City. Mayor Gregor Robertson said they want “to be at the forefront of the digital economy” when it came to serving residents and businesses. The City is clearly putting its money where its mouth is – plowing $30 million into the four-year strategy – as it seeks to unify the digital future and create a Vancouver Technology Centre to incubate and accelerate digital growth. With a City ready to invest and build its tech credentials, billions of dollars in digital turnover only growing and an educated excited city close to other major tech hubs it is not surprising Vancouver is fast becoming a digital hotspot. A hiccup such as the closure of an international animation studio should be no problem in the tech aspirations of Vancouver.

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